The Store in Hunter Street at Newcastle West has a long history

In the days before Coles and Woolies monopolised grocery shopping, The Store reigned supreme in Newcastle.

Old Times: Clarrie on a sulky, working for The Store. Darby the horse is out of picture.

Old Times: Clarrie on a sulky, working for The Store. Darby the horse is out of picture.

Actually, Aldi is doing a decent job of breaking the Coles-Woolies duopoly, but that’s another story.

As we were saying, The Store was the bee’s knees back in the day.

The Newcastle Herald reported a couple of weeks ago that the NSW government will demolish The Store next year.

This iconic Hunter Street building will make way for a bus interchange – a partner to the flashy new transport interchange in the Wickham-Newcastle West zone.

New commercial, retail and residential buildings may well end up on The Store site.

All this brought memories flooding back for Williamtown’s Clarrie Boekenstein.

First off, we told Clarrie he had an absolutely cracking name.

He replied with a typically Australian guttural cackle – the kind of old-school laughter that can probably still be heard in pubs far and wide across the country.

Clarrie, aged 86, used to work at The Store, also known as the Newcastle and District Co-operative Society.

He worked there for 25 years.

“I started when I was 16. My first job was driving a horse and sulky to collect grocery orders,” he said.

When first interviewed for the job by a Store rep named Mr Gibson in 1946, he was asked: “Do you play cricket?”.

Clarrie replied that he did.

“Mr Gibson then asked me what I was prepared to do, when on the crease at the bowler’s end. I immediately said ‘get ready to run’.

“He then said ‘you start work on Monday’.”

Clarrie started work collecting grocery orders in his horse and sulky. He and his horse Darby were pals.

“Darby and I worked in many areas of Newcastle – Mayfield east and west, Lambton, New Lambton and Broadmeadow.”

He soon graduated to collecting grocery orders on motorbike.

Clarrie also had a stint doing milk deliveries for The Store, once again with a horse and sulky. His horse’s name for this task was Lance.

When the milk department closed in the early 1960s, the milkos were retrenched.

Clarrie and Lance moved on to deliver bread.

Clarrie later progressed to become store representative, which involved explaining the business to new members.

“We used to get about 1000 new members every fortnight,” Clarrie said.

Clarrie would give them the lowdown on The Store’s famous dividend (known as the divvy), which rewarded members for buying goods.

The divvy allowed members to get decent discounts on products like fridges, washing machines and furniture.

In 1968, Clarrie was promoted to branch manager at the Clyde Street co-op store at Hamilton North.

He ended up resigning in 1971. He could see the writing on the wall, as Coles, Woolies and IGA expanded. He later became an ambulance officer.

As for The Store, its doors closed in April 1981 after 83 years of operation.

Seven years before its closure, the co-op had 98,000 members, 1450 employees, 15 retail stores and 11 service stations, Herald history writer Mike Scanlon wrote.

At its peak in the late 1950s, The Store was believed to be the biggest and most successful co-operative in the southern hemisphere.

A former Store general manager once said: “The only thing you couldn't buy there was a motor car, but you could buy all the spare parts.”

As for Clarrie, he loved his time there.

“It was a great business,” he said.

He made a lot of friends at The Store, both male and female.

“I still catch up with them occasionally, but unfortunately many have passed away.”

Sir and Madam

Topics wrote yesterday about how we find it strange and awkward when retail assistants refer to us as sir.

Hamilton’s Leona Goodman added that she was no fan of being referred to as madam.

We went so far as calling for an end to the use of sir and madam, except at royal gatherings.

However, not everyone agrees.

Pat Halliday told Topics “there is a time and place for sir and madam”.

“Mate is out of place where parties are unknown. I am a part-time taxi driver and part-time barman,” he said.

Pat said “my friend” worked for him.

Examples he gave were: “Where would you like to go, my friend?” and “What would you like to drink, my friend?”.

Wallsend’s Kath Goddard is quite fond of the modern-day use of sir and madam.

“Sir and madam are respectful terms, unlike the patronising darling, love, dear and sweetheart, which can be expected by any woman as soon as she develops a wrinkle or grey hair,” Kath said.

Thoughts to topics@theherald.com.au.

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